The New Year has begun in Iran, and it will perhaps the most fateful since the Islamic Revolution. International public opinion last year was focused on the nuclear issue. The sanctions became even tighter and were imposed on the oil industry, causing Iran to lose a significant source of revenues. This also has an impact on the budget for the New Year, which as it has been in the past, continues to be based on oil revenues. While Iranian efforts to reduce dependence on oil revenues are higher on the agenda than ever, they will not bear fruit in the short term, as this a long process.
Despite the ever-growing economic crisis that dampered the spirit of the holiday, the marked downturn in purchases for New Year celebrations and the increasing domestic strife due to the upcoming elections, both the President and the Supreme Leader painted a very rosy picture of reality in their New Year’s speeches. They pinned the difficulties Iran is facing on “enemies who want to hurt Iran,” who are jealous of Iran’s many successes and independence, in order to force their will upon Iran. They emphasized Iran’s strong stance against these pressures, and also both issued a clarion call for mass participation in the upcoming presidential elections (June 2013), as a show of Iran’s strength.
The Supreme Leader, who termed last year as “the year of production,” admitted, as did many in Iran, that the mission was not accomplished, and they still have a long way to go in this regard. In recent months criticism of Ahmadinejad’s government has grown more vociferous, particularly with respect to the economy, and this is evidently being orchestrated by the Supreme Leader and his supporters who want to sidestep criticism for Iran’s economic woes. The Supreme Leader emphasized in his speech that the events of the past year were “sweet and bitter… as is the case with the lives of all human beings” and that in the New Year, Iran will face very real political and economic challenges, which is why he named the year, “The Year of Political and Economic Valor.”
In another speech given by Khamenei, he sharply criticized the United States and defined it as the center of the schemes against Iran and as a country that is not interested in real dialog with Iran, but only in forcing its positions on Iran and forcing Iran to submit to its will. He again stressed that Iran only wants recognition of its “natural right” to uranium enrichment.
Furthermore, Iran did not ignore US President Barack Obama’s message to the Iranian people in honor of Nowruz. Iran responded by accusing the US of hypocrisy. Some Iranian media outlets edited out Obama’s greetings to the Iranian people at the beginning of his speech, choosing to focus on the implicit threats and the United States’ efforts throughout the years to harm Iran through various means, including the soft war being waged against Iran, assassination of nuclear scientists and removing Mohahedin-e-Khalq from the US terror list.
While Iran is conveying strength and confidence, in this New Year it will face serious challenges coming from both inside and outside Iran. Its neighbor to the west, Turkey, has a different opinion on the Syrian issue. The Gulf countries accuse it of subversive activity. Bashar Assad, Iran’s pillar of support in the Middle East, is flailing, and from an economic perspective the constant decline in oil revenues and oil exports are all significant. The new government in Iran will have to grapple with these highly imposing issues as well as with the calls for change at home due to the economic crisis. These cries for change may translate into protests around the elections, despite the heavy hand and restrictions on freedom of expression the regime has already implemented in the run up to the elections, given their fear of foreign interference and that the foreign influence will join forces with the authentic and growing domestic protest.